Africa’s climate is characterized by extremes, from a humid equatorial climate at the equator, through tropical and semi-arid in the middle of the region, to an arid climate towards the northern and southern fringes. Sub-Saharan Africa has a relatively plentiful supply of rainwater, but it is highly seasonal and unevenly distributed across the region.

Efforts to provide adequate water resources confronts several challenges including problems associated with land-use (change) such as erosion/siltation and possible ecological consequences on the hydrological cycle. Impacts on ecosystems in freshwater and marine ecosystems are already observed in eastern and southern Africa, and terrestrial ecosystems in southern and western Africa (IPCC, 2010).

Observable and potential effects of climate change on water resources include climate variability through change in the frequency and distribution of rainfall, drying-up of rivers, melting of glaciers, receding of water bodies, landslides, and cyclones among others. The greatest impact will continue to be felt by the poor, who have the most limited access to water resources but entire economies suffer when the water levels of Africa’s huge rivers drop.

Availability of water in Sub-Saharan Africa is highly variable. Only the humid tropical zones in central and West Africa have abundant water, this situation is getting worse as a consequence of rapid population growth, expanding urbanization, and increased economic development. This may exacerbate national security issues and increase the number of international conflicts. Conflicts often occur over the use of already limited natural resources, fertile ground and water (IPCC, 2014).

Africa’s rising population is driving demand for water and accelerating the degradation of water resources in many countries on the continent.  The World Bank (2012) estimated that by 2025, the number of countries experiencing water stress will rise to 18 affecting over 600 million people. Many countries will shift from water surplus to water scarcity as a result of population changes alone, using a per capita water-scarcity limit of 1,000 m3/year.

Despite the efforts of some Sub-Saharan African countries and cities to expand basic services and improve urban housing conditions, rapid and unplanned urban growth has increased the number of settlements on unstable, flood-prone, and high-risk land where phenomena such as landslides, rains, and earthquakes have devastating consequences.

The ongoing urbanization process will have a significant effect on rural development. Not only in terms of increased pressure on existing local governments but also in terms of rural livelihoods. Decreasing availability of labor and the general increase of population age in rural areas will have over time a significant impact on existing livelihood strategies. It will also have substantial effects on e.g. infrastructure planning, for which accurate population projections are needed, as well as on maintenance of rural infrastructure for which rural labor contributions are presently critical.

Climate Adaptation Capacity

Local governments will be increasingly required to create capacity to react and adapt to external influences and events. Natural disasters for example require an emergency response capacity for water resources management which pre-planning and coordination abilities are essential. The consequences of climate change are more difficult to determine and can be highly localized, which assigns a clear role and responsibility to local governments. It requires additional and a different kind of capacity to mitigate climate change and to develop and adapt to a range of possible scenarios with direct and indirect consequences. This therefore necessitates having a higher level capacity for service delivery and for local development.  Areas to look at are:

  • Response capacity to unforeseen events like forest fires and freak weather;
  • Access to information and knowledge, monitoring of climate change impact and (water resources) adaptation activities;
  • Cross-sector area-based scenario planning and localized risk and (water) vulnerability assessments;
  • Developing regulation for appropriate land use planning, zoning, disaster management;
  • More flexible financial systems, decentralized grants and authority to generate fiscal revenue for increase responsiveness;
  • Multi-stakeholder dialogue and strengthening multi-stakeholder responsiveness;
  • Developing community capacity in terms of resilience and livelihoods adaptation;
  • Developing low-carbon economic development plans and incentives for climate change mitigation, sustainable water management;
  • Design standards of buildings and infrastructure in terms of water and energy efficiency and climate proofing for extreme weather occurrences;
  • Connecting national level strategies, policies, regulations and plans to local realities, capacities and demands.